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Mental health and addictions minister addresses pandemic concerns over children, youth

B.C.’s Minister of Mental health and Addictions acknowledges that more can be done to help children and youth impacted by the pandemic.

Sheila Malcolmson says they realize how heartbreaking it is for families, when youth have the courage to reach out, and the services just aren’t there.

“They (the services) are too far, they’re culturally unsafe, or they’re hard to access,” she said. “That is very tough and that is what we’re trying to fix.”

Malcolmson is reacting to a letter penned by the BC Liberals expressing concern on how the pandemic has hurt children and youth.

Last May, BC’s Representative for Children and Youth confirmed over 2,500 youth were on waitlists seeking immediate care.

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Malcolmson said they’re working to reduce these wait times.

“We’re on the right track,” she added. “We’ve had a 21 percent decrease in wait times since the 2016-2017 year and there is more to do.”

As for the current COVID-19 health and safety orders, Malcolmson says preserving people’s mental health while keeping them safe from the pandemic is a balancing act.

“We want to work hard to keep people alive, especially in the north and Vancouver Island, COVID cases are on the rise right now,” Malcolmson said. “I am grateful for the work that (provincial health officer) Dr. Bonnie Henry has kept businesses open, has kept places like skating rinks and spots where you can recreate safely, they’re open in British Columbia.

Malcolmson said Dr. Henry recognizes from a health perspective, how important it is to get outside and keep active.

She said online counselling is helping to fill a void during the pandemic and a government website has a whole range of mental health supports to help people struggling with the pandemic. 

“We want that help to be there for you and we will be building up that system of care,” Malcolmson said.

She said if you can’t physically walk in to talk to someone, you can connect virtually through the Foundry virtual website.

Malcolmson noted that over the past three years, the NDP government has invested more than $140 million into child and youth mental health, alone.

She said that is just a start.

“We’ve had some pretty great partnerships with some of the amazing community organizations,” she added.

Malcolmson pointed to Foundry, a province-wide network of integrated health and social service centres for young people ages 12-24.

“We’ve had people tapping into the virtual Foundry, it’s something we pushed out faster because of the pandemic,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of people going to these online youth centres, in effect, where people can get their mental healthcare, their addictions support, their treatment and just some friendship and peer collaboration. It’s one of those examples we invested in that I think is really going to change lives.”

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